County home part of biggest fentanyl bust in Canada

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67,000 pills plus $1 mil cash seized

Edmonton-area police say that a Sturgeon County drug lab was part of a ring that led to the biggest fentanyl bust in Canadian history.

Staff Sgt. Karen Ockerman and RCMP Const. Jason Wells unveiled some of the $4.3 million in drugs seized from four Edmonton and one Sturgeon County home earlier this month as part of an ongoing investigation into an Edmonton-area drug trafficking ring.

The county home, located at 26023 Township Road 544, was a suspected drug lab used to produce pills of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a deadly opioid linked to 363 drug-overdose deaths in Alberta last year. Alberta Health Services has shuttered the home until its owner decontaminates it.

Ockerman said police seized some 130,000 fentanyl pills worth about $3.9 million from the five homes – what they believe to be the biggest fentanyl bust in Canadian history. They also seized about $1 million in cash, which was the biggest cash bust in Edmonton police history.

Also seized were 2.4 kg of cocaine worth about $129,000, 1.8 kg of methamphetamine worth $52,000, 834 one-gram packets of the cannabis extract known as “shatter” ($58,000), four ounces of carfentanil ($14,000), 658 grams of powders laced with fentanyl ($115,000) and 100 kg of buffing agents used to make pills.

Police also seized four large yellow-painted portable cement mixers, two pill presses and a 2001 Ford F-150 with a hidden compartment.

Ockerman said these drugs were likely meant for distribution in around Edmonton.

Wells, who is with the RCMP’s Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response (CLEAR) team, said his team found traces of fentanyl throughout the Sturgeon County home, and believe it to be a complex pill production facility.

“It’s the largest one I’ve seen personally,” he said, and definitely the biggest one found in Alberta.

“I was very concerned when we entered the house and saw the scale and size of the production they had.”

The operators of the lab did not produce fentanyl on site, but mixed it with substances such as caffeine and sugars to press into pills, Wells said. The two commercial pill presses on site would have been able to crank out about 10,000 pills an hour between them.

Instead of using commercial drug mixing equipment, the operators of this lab appear to have used the cement mixers to mix and coat the pills they produced, Wells said.

“It was an innovative way, or say a new way, of mixing powder we’ve never seen before.”

Wells noted that since this equipment is available at stores such as Home Depot, police could use sales of it to try and track down similar drug labs.

Wells said it was “extremely concerning” that carfentanil – an extra-potent version of fentanyl – was found on site. Drug producers have taken to using this variant to maximize their profits, but it’s so potent that it’s tough to produce a non-fatal dose. All variants of fentanyl have the potential to kill, he added.

While they had yet to analyze the mixed powders, Ockerman said that police have noticed a growing trend of dealers mixing fentanyl with heroin or cocaine.

Ockerman said that police have multiple suspects in this case but have yet to lay any charges. She suspected that this bust would have some impact on the drug ring.

The investigation is ongoing.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.